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Grants to aid University’s alcohol-research efforts

By : Eric Coker

Two new federal grants will help Binghamton University stay at the forefront of alcohol research.

The first is a five-year, $8.5 million grant that funds the Developmental Exposure Alcohol Research Center (DEARC), a partnership of Binghamton University, SUNY Upstate Medical Center and SUNY Cortland. About $3 million of the funds will go to Binghamton.

The second is a two-year, $800,000 grant that has enabled Binghamton University’s Psychology Department to hire an assistant professor/alcohol researcher and establish and support a research lab.

David Werner, currently doing post-doctoral work at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, accepted the position last week.

Linda Spear, distinguished professor of psychology, is the principal investigator on the grant to hire a new alcohol researcher, and is the scientific director of the DEARC.  Both grants are funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

“Getting both grants was exciting and fortuitous because it is increasing our faculty and our capacity to conduct alcohol research,” Spear said. “This is bringing new research money to the University and it is bringing important collaborations across institutions. These days, we have to be creative how we generate new jobs and research funding.”

Celia Klin, chair of the Psychology Department, credited Spear with that creativity.
“Given the tough economic times in the state and at the University, it is remarkable that the Psychology Department is able to hire a first-rate scientist this year,” Klin said.  “This is thanks to Linda Spear, who devoted a great deal of energy to securing this funding. Despite the intensive demands of her research program, Linda is a team player, and is committed to finding creative ways to build the program.”

Werner is scheduled to begin at the University on June 1, Spear said. He received his doctorate in molecular pharmacology from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 2007.

“He’s adding a more molecular and cellular focus to our research program,” Spear said. “He will also help bridge our alcohol research program and the program at SUNY Upstate. It’s an exciting addition for us.”

Werner is also likely to work with DEARC to obtain funding for a pilot research project.
DEARC’s main areas of interest are fetal exposure and adolescent exposure to alcohol, Spear said.

“Those are the primary times when individuals are exposed to alcohol while the brain is developing,” she said. “We’re building on the strengths of our programs and becoming stronger by taking our behavior expertise and SUNY Upstate’s molecular expertise and combining them to attack the problem: What are the long-term consequences of developmental exposure to alcohol during critical times of development?”

Spear’s work received international attention over the last year. Last summer, the British Broadcasting Company show Horizon came to campus to interview Spear and film her lab for an episode called “Do I Drink Too Much?” National Geographic also filmed the lab, while a South Korean news crew visited Spear this week. Spear’s book The Behavioral Neuroscience of Adolescence was released last fall.
Spear, who has received federal funding for research such as the alcohol intake of adolescents during peer-directed social interactions, believes collaborative research is “the wave of the future.”

“Today there is less emphasis on individual labs and more on collaborative ventures,” she said. “It’s about breaking down research silos and trying to do multi-disciplinary research across labs and universities. That’s what we’re trying to establish with the DEARC. We are excited by the collaborative opportunities provide

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Last Updated: 10/14/08